Posted by: James Wapotich | April 20, 2013

Trail Quest: Rancho Nuevo Canyon

Tucked away in a remote corner of Los Padres National Forest, Rancho Nuevo Canyon offers some rich scenery for visitors willing to venture there. With its dramatic lower canyon and expansive watershed it can inspire one to wonder just how many other hidden places there are in our local backcountry waiting to be discovered.

There are two ways to access the area, either from Deal Trail or Rancho Nuevo Trail. If you’re visiting the area as part of an overnight backpacking trip, starting from Rancho Nuevo Campground and following Rancho Nuevo Trail offers one the shorter route with the most scenery. The hike from Rancho Nuevo Campground to Upper Rancho Nuevo Camp is about 10.5 miles round trip.

Condor Trail, which traverses the southern Los Padres National Forest from Lake Piru in the south to the northern end of the National Forest in San Luis Obispo County passes through the area, following Deal Trail over to Rancho Nuevo Canyon. Utilizing existing trails and roads, Condor Trail as a through hike route offers the best of both worlds in visiting Rancho Nuevo Canyon as it lets one pass through the area traveling from one trailhead to the next.

Los Padres National Forest Rancho Nuevo Canyon Upper Deal Trail Canyon Bear Santa Barbara hike Ojai Highway 33

Rancho Nuevo Canyon

To get to the Deal trailhead from Ojai take State Route 33, the road follows North Matilija Creek and climbs to the top of the Matilija drainage and then enters the Sespe drainage, at which point it passes the turn off to Rose Valley. State Route 33 continues along the upper stretch of Sespe Creek, passing through Sespe Gorge, and gradually climbing towards Pine Mountain Summit. At the summit State Route 33 descends down towards the Cuyama River.

The Deal trailhead is on State Route 33, on the left, a mile before the turn off to Lockwood Valley Road, which is on the right, and can serve as indication that one has missed the trailhead. The trailhead is well marked with a sign and a pullout along the side of the road for parking. About two miles before the trailhead, back towards Ojai, also on the left along State Route 33 is the beginning of Deal Connector Trail, which joins Deal Trail.

From the trailhead, Deal Trail, sometimes referred to as Bear Canyon Trail, travels southwest through Bear Canyon. The canyon is at times narrow adding to the sense of exploring someplace undiscovered. At about the 1.5-mile mark the trail arrives at the intersection with Deal Connector Trail. The intersection is not marked but Deal Connector Trail is noticeable on your left. From this intersection Deal Trail continues up Bear Canyon to the right.

One of the interesting side trips one can make is a visit to Mine Camp. In the late 1940s there was interest in uranium mining in our local backcountry and Mr. Deal, for whom the canyon is named, is said to have prospected the area with his partners in the venture. There is no actual mine, but the camp is situated under a mix of pines and oaks and offers a shady place to rest.

To get to Mine Camp, from the intersection of Deal Trail and Deal Connector Trail continue along Deal Connector Trail – about a quarter mile later the trail branches again with Deal Connector Trail continuing a half mile up towards State Route 33. Stay to the right as Mine Spur Trail continues up the side creek towards Mine Camp. The trail follows the remnants of the old dirt road that led from State Route 33 to the camp.

About a mile from Deal Trail one arrives at Mine Camp. The original camp stove and cement foundation has since fallen apart, but a fire ring and picnic table remain. In the springtime there can be a trickle of water in the stream below camp.

Deal Trail continues up Bear Canyon, gaining altitude and offering some nice views back down the canyon and out towards Pine Mountain. At about the 2.5-mile mark from the trailhead, Deal Trail crests the Bear Canyon drainage and descends into the Deal Canyon drainage and officially enters the Dick Smith Wilderness.

The trail follows a side tributary of Deal Creek before then joining Deal Creek. The trail becomes more overgrown through this section as the whole area was burned in the 2007 Zaca Fire. Here, one will also find various side trails, however, the trail itself follows the canyon downstream. The trail through this section is fairly exposed offering little shade.

Continuing downstream the canyon starts to narrow and Deal Creek begins to flow more regularly, although not necessarily year round. The trail crosses the creek several times and, at about the 5.5-mile mark from Deal trailhead, arrives at Deal Junction Camp.

Deal Junction Camp is situated on a flat, open area dotted with Yerba Santa just above the confluence of where Deal Creek joins Rancho Nuevo Creek. The camp has a nice backcountry feel and is set against several manzanita bushes. The camp is said to have been an old hunting camp and has a fire ring and grated stove.

From Deal Junction Camp, Condor Trail continues downstream along Rancho Nuevo Trail to Rancho Nuevo Campground. However, if one has time, a visit to Upper Rancho Nuevo Camp allows one to see even more of the canyon.

To get to Upper Rancho Nuevo Camp continue upstream from Deal Junction Camp along Rancho Nuevo Trail. The trail crosses the creek a number of times and is overgrown places.

Rancho Nuevo Creek, like Deal Creek, is rich with silt and can make for a great medium for observing animal tracks. One is often treated to bear, coyote, fox, mountain lion, and even turtle tracks along both creeks.

About 3.5 miles from Deal Junction Camp, Rancho Nuevo Trail arrives at Upper Rancho Nuevo Camp. The camp is just past a small choke point in the canyon and is situated in small flat area along the creek. The camp has a grated stove, ice can stove, and fire ring, and does not have water year round. Past the camp, Rancho Nuevo Canyon continues still deeper into the backcountry and can be a fun place to explore as the canyon widens and is not too brushy.

Continuing downstream from Deal Junction Camp, Rancho Nuevo Trail follows Rancho Nuevo Creek. The canyon becomes deeper and more dramatic as one approaches Rancho Nuevo Campground and is one of the highlights of the trip.

At about the 7.75-mile mark from the Deal Trailhead, Condor Trail arrives at Rancho Nuevo Campground. Rancho Nuevo is Spanish for new ranch and at one time was part of the ranching operations of the Reyes Family which had an adobe home in the upper Cuyama Valley near the mouth of Reyes Creek.

The campground itself is not in very good shape with just one damaged fire ring, and is really more of a trailhead than a campground.

Rancho Nuevo Campground can also be reached from State Route 33. Continuing north along State Route 33 from the Deal Trailhead, one would continue pass the turnoff to Lockwood Valley Road and two miles later look for the signed turnoff on the left to the campground.

The road to Rancho Nuevo Campground crosses the Cuyama River, which can be impassable when the river is really flowing, however, as is often the case the river can look more like a small creek. The road is unpaved and can be bumpy. About a mile in the road branches with the road to the right continuing over towards Tinta Campground and the road to the left continuing roughly a mile further to Rancho Nuevo Campground.

From Rancho Nuevo Campground, Condor Trail follows the dirt road to the intersection and continues over to Tinta Campground, before making its way to Dry Canyon Road, joining Santa Barbara Canyon Road and eventually reentering the Dick Smith Wilderness.

This article originally appeared in section A of the April 20th, 2013 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press.


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